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‘I kind of feel like I’m back in the rookie shoes, and that’s OK’: Mille Porsild says she foresees challenge in this year’s Iditarod, but ready to tackle it

Porsild was the 2020 Iditarod Rookie of the Year after a 15th-place finish last March
Mille Porsild tends to her dogs after her ROTY finish in the 2020 Iditarod.
Mille Porsild tends to her dogs after her ROTY finish in the 2020 Iditarod.(KTUU)
Published: Mar. 7, 2021 at 4:20 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Dane Mille Porsild, who entered the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race as a racer for the first time in 2020, said shortly before this year’s start that she’s ready for this year despite the inevitable challenges that lie ahead.

“The fact that I was Rookie of the Year last year, I’m super excited about that,” she said. “That’s great.”

“And that means absolutely nothing this year,” she laughed.

Porsild took 15th place in the 48th running of the Iditarod, which finished under the burled arch in Nome. She said Sunday that she doesn’t really feel any pressure from her ROTY title in 2020, nor that she has any “leg up” because of her success last time around.

However, she said, she does feel comfortable with taking on the “new” route, despite having notably less experience on it than many of her counterparts in this year’s race.

“I’ve only been down that trail once,” she said. “I went over the pass in the dark. And really, my head was very busy just trying to deal with what’s going on. So, I have no idea how it looks, and those who have gone over it five, 10, 20 times, they have probably seen it also in daylight, and they know every crook and corner of it.”

“So they have a much better ability, not just with the pass but with the entire route, to envision how it looks coming back,” she said.

Porsild said that she’s quite familiar with the southern route as a whole — the usual trail the Iditarod takes in odd-numbered years — having gone down it previously and knowing the rivers and other sections particularly well. This year, with a new loop in play, it’s a totally different ball game.

“I kind of feel like I’m back in the rookie shoes, and that’s okay,” said Porsild, who is donning bib number 28 this year. “I think the biggest, most important part of my strategy is to stay within the bounds of my dogs. You know, I have really good dogs in front of me. I need to keep them that way to the finish line. You don’t want to finish with a lot in the tank, but you also don’t want to be empty beforehand. And that’s the goal.”

Having started mushing in 1992, and then entering her first race in 2011, Porsild would go on to play a pivotal role in fellow Scandinavian and Norwegian Joar Leifseth Ulsom’s 2018 Iditarod win. Together, they’d moved from across the pond to Alaska, training and racing together, before she went her own way to compete under her own name and team.

Porsild, however, is hardly by herself in her sled dog racing endeavors, and said she’s supported by some of mushing’s greatest successes, including but not limited to DeeDee Jonrowe, Jeff King and Dean Osmar. She has dogs from several of those kennels and others, as well as her own.

“I get the honor of working with them, and trying to get the best out of them,” she said, “and making them feel confident in who they are and running at the highest level of their capacity.

“And they are; they’re there, they’re definitely peaking, and they’re ready to kill me,” she laughed.

Outside of a bout with coronavirus shortly after last year’s race, Porsild has continued training and building on nearly two decades of experience as she takes on another strong group of mushers this year.

The Iditarod roster for 2021 includes a mix of rookies and veterans — including four Iditarod champions — and teams from four different countries. Porsild called the endeavor this year “intimidating,” “fun,” and “an honor.”

However, she said that when it comes to veteran Aliy Zirkle — who earlier this winter announced her retirement upon completion of this year’s Iditarod — that has a “completely separate meaning.”

“Aliy, to me, stands above and beyond what a competitor should be in any sport,” Porsild said. “So as a human outside of the race, I very much care for and like Aliy, and then I can say she is absolutely phenomenal in a race to her dogs and to the people around her.”

As Zirkle chases down a title after seven top-10 finishes and a trio of runner-up honors three years in a row, Porsild is looking to make a name for herself out on the Iditarod trail.

“I do have a good team,” Porsild said. “I have a very, very talented group of dogs. I’m very lucky.”

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